Voters across New Orleans will decide the fates of several ballot propositions next Tuesday, Nov. 6. One of those propositions — to extend the tolls on the Crescent City Connection — also will appear on the ballot in Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. In addition, voters of some New Orleans precincts will vote on neighborhood improvement and crime abatement fees. Following are our recommendations on those referenda.
School Board Term Limits: Yes — Voters in most Louisiana parishes, including Orleans, will decide whether to impose term limits on local school board members. The proposition will be decided on a parish-by-parish basis, not statewide. If approved, board members would be limited to three consecutive four-year terms beginning in January 2014. Jefferson Parish already imposes term limits on school board members, so the issue will not be on the ballot there. While we don't think term limits are a cure-all for what ails government, we think the arguments in favor of term limits — especially as applied to school boards — outweigh those against. One valid criticism of term limits is that they diminish the institutional memory of public bodies. However, we think a limit of 12 years offers ample opportunity for school boards to overcome that problem. On balance, we think school board term limits will be good for public education.
Bridge Tolls Extension: Yes — This issue is on the ballot in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. A majority of the total votes cast in those parishes is needed to extend the tolls on the Crescent City Connection (CCC) for another 20 years. State Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, has waged a valiant campaign to clean up past abuses by the commission that oversees the CCC. We support Connick's reform efforts, but we respectfully disagree with his proposed solution of letting tolls expire at the end of this year. If the tolls expire, bridge traffic will likely be more congested (as it was before tolls were reimposed years ago) and less safe. Louisiana State Police, which has seen severe budget cuts in recent years, would be stretched to cover the bridge, one of America's busiest. In addition, the loss of toll revenue would adversely affect important construction projects along the bridge and expressway. Extending the tolls will provide for safety, traffic flow, maintenance, construction and landscaping — and tighter controls over where the money goes in the future.
City Charter Amendment, Separate At-Large Council Elections: Yes — The City Charter currently makes candidates for the council's two at-large seats all run against each other in a political free-for-all. To win, a candidate must get more than 25 percent of the vote. This makes for some strange math — and even stranger politics. In other parishes, and in each council district, candidates run for separate, specific seats. This amendment would make that the rule for New Orleans' two at-large seats as well, establishing them as At-Large Division 1 and At-Large Division 2. It makes sense — and it's fair.
Regional Business Park, Millage Renewal: Yes — If renewed, the 20-mill property tax would continue to be levied only on commercial properties within the 7,000-acre New Orleans Regional Business Park in eastern New Orleans, but voters citywide will decide its fate. The tax would generate slightly less than $220,000 a year for the business park's management. The park offers New Orleans its best hope for significant light or heavy industrial activity.
Orleans Levee District, Millage Renewal: Yes — Voters on the East Bank of Orleans Parish will consider whether to renew for 30 years a 6.07-mill property tax for flood protection. A small portion of the millage (0.61 mill) would be dedicated to the so-called non-flood assets of the Orleans Levee District. The massive flooding caused by Hurricane Isaac and the memory of Hurricane Katrina should make this an easy sell. Unfortunately, a small group of well-intentioned but misguided "reformers" opposes the renewal because they want the Levee District to sell off its non-flood assets. Those non-flood assets include Lakeshore Drive and five miles of parkway (which doubles as a buttress for the lakefront levee), two marinas (which will generate money for flood protection when fully restored), and the Lakefront Airport (which is an important economic engine). We think the better option is to renew the millage for flood protection and dedicate a small portion — less than 40 cents a month for a home assessed at $150,000 in fair market value — to the non-flood assets, which provide recreation to thousands of New Orleanians and bolster flood protection to all of the East Bank. Meanwhile, the non-flood asset management board should continue its work to restore those assets — then recommend how best to manage them in the future.
Neighborhood Improvement/Crime Prevention Districts: Yes — Voters in three New Orleans neighborhoods will decide whether to impose flat fees on parcels of land to support security and improvement efforts. Those neighborhoods include Lake Vista, North Kenilworth and Gentilly Terrace and Gardens. Neighborhood leaders in all three areas have worked with local lawmakers to draft legislation authorizing the fees, subject to voter approval in those neighborhoods. We support their efforts.